BEIRUT: Lebanon should introduce a quota to boost women’s participation in politics and enhance transparency in the electoral process, according to activists and local and European officials.
Legislation for a female quota system was drafted under former Prime Minister Saad Hariri in order to close the enormous gender gap in politics, but it was never put to a vote and remains heavily contested by many.
“It is a big controversial issue,” Change and Reform Bloc MP Ghassan Moukheiber told those who gathered at Parliament Wednesday for an event aimed at advocating reform ahead of the upcoming parliamentary elections.
“Serious work is very little and is always late. ... Personally, I am one of the eager ones to adopt the quota.”
The event, titled Parliamentary Elections 2014 – Challenges and Opportunities, was organized under the auspices of Speaker Nabih Berri by the French and German embassies as well as Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung in Lebanon, a German political foundation.
The event comprised two panels: one called Ensuring Participation – How to Involve All Groups of Society, and another called How to Enhance Transparency: Applying Observer Recommendations of Earlier Parliamentary Elections.
“It is true that there is no legal hindrance that prohibits a woman from running [in elections],” said Yara Nassar, executive director of the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections.
“But there is a social and political hindrance, and a patriarchal society, and political parties that initially do not nominate women in their leadership,” she said.
Nassar also pointed to the fact that only 53 percent of Lebanese took part in the 2009 elections, meaning that almost half of the country was not voting.
Former German Minister of Justice Herta Daubler-Gemlin said the female quota introduced in 1988 in Germany had greatly improved political and social life.
“Women make politics better,” Daubler-Gemlin said, adding: “If given the chance, women will show that they can be top vote-getters.”
The event also touched on ways to improve the electoral law, including adopting proportional representation, lowering the voting age from 21 to 18, broadening the rules that allow Lebanese expats to vote, involving the military in the election process, giving votes to those detained but not yet charged for crimes, and creating better, less expensive transportation to voting centers – particularly for disabled people.
Parliamentary elections are set to take place this coming November. In May last year, Parliament extended its term for 17 months due to the inability of rival political factions to agree on an electoral law that would provide fair representation for all.
Speakers also stressed the importance of transparency in media coverage of the elections. Former MP Misbah al-Ahdab highlighted the fact that news outlets tended to cover one party depending on their political allegiance and that of their donors.
Executive Director of the Samir Kassir Foundation (SKeyes) Ayman Mhanna suggested the media provide three hours a week of public education on the electoral process and how to vote.
He also stressed that “not going through with the elections or postponing the elections is unacceptable.”
Elsa Fenet, head of the section for political affairs within the European Union Delegation to Lebanon, called for parliamentary elections to be held on time and according to the country’s Constitution.
She also stressed that the EU was calling for the use of preprinted ballot papers as in most other countries, “to make sure that civil society is included, has a voice, and is part of the debate on election reform,” something UNDP’s Lebanese Elections Assistance Program is working to develop a prototype for.
The UNDP program’s chief technical adviser, Richard Chambers, added that the debate on electoral reform usually took place in a closed room and that it needed to be “opened up” in order to allow reform to take place.
Lokman Slim, director of Hayya Bina – an initiative that began in 2005 to promote greater citizen involvement in politics – said everyone needed to feel as though they were directly involved in future electoral reforms, adding that the image portrayed by the makeup of Parliament “completely opposed” that of Lebanese society.